DAVIE, Fla. (AP) — Running back Tevin Coleman returned to practice Wednesday as the San Francisco 49ers began final preparations for the Super Bowl, while the Kansas City Chiefs had everyone on the field as they put the finishing touches on their game plan.
Coleman, who dislocated his shoulder in the NFC championship game, took handoffs during team drills during the 1-hour, 40-min workout at the University of Miami’s practice facility. He looked to be in good spirits, too, slapping hands with his teammates and leaping after one play in particular.
“We’ll see as the week goes how much the pain tolerance is for his shoulder,” said 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, who also has Matt Breida and breakout star Raheem Mostert at his disposal in the backfield.
Coleman was listed as limited on the injury list along with linebacker Kwon Alexander, who returned from a torn pectoral muscle in the playoffs, and safety Jaquiski Tartt, who has been dealing with sore ribs.
“They all got to go,” Shanahan said. “”I’m expecting them to be good by Sunday.”
The 49ers practiced in helmets and shells on the freshly resurfaced grass practice fields as they worked on first- and second-down installations, just as they would do during a normal Wednesday workout. The session included 11-on-11 team periods in which the offense and defense worked against scout team looks.
Meanwhile, the only injury concerns heading into the week for the Chiefs were defensive tackle Chris Jones, who was hobbled by a calf strain in the AFC title game, and tight end Travis Kelce, who has been dealing with a sore knee.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid said that Kelce was fine and that Jones was “good to go” after a 90-minute workout Wednesday.
Reid wanted to keep the week before the game relatively light, so the Chiefs installed virtually the entire game plan for Sunday night’s game before they departed Kansas City. That allowed them to deal with the circus of opening night Monday and more media responsibilities Tuesday without worrying about putting things in place for the game.
“They loved it,” Reid told a pool reporter after the workout, which took place at the Miami Dolphins’ practice facility under sunny skies and with temperatures hitting 80 degrees. “They got a little sunshine, so they loved it.”
There were several visitors to practice, including the Fox Sports crew that will broadcast the game Sunday night. Joe Buck and color analyst Troy Aikman were joined by sideline reporters Chris Myers and Erin Andrews, while the pregame crew of Curt Menefee, Michael Strahan and Jimmie Johnson watched the workout.
At the end of practice, Reid asked Johnson — recently voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame — to speak to the team.
“I competed against him and always respected him,” Reid said.
Fun-loving TEs Kelce, Kittle the life of Super Bowl party
MIAMI (AP) — They’ve got swagger, style and lots and lots of catches.
Kansas City’s Travis Kelce and San Francisco’s George Kittle are talkative tight ends at this year’s Super Bowl and among the most entertaining personalities in the NFL — Rob Gronkowski-types who could play big roles in who wins the big game Sunday.
“I just love to live life, man,” Kelce said with a big smile. “And I like to enjoy happiness along the way.”
That comes from a guy whose silly, entertaining, ridiculous, hilarious — or, all of the above — dances to celebrate his touchdowns instantly go viral moments after he gets into the end zone.
The 6-foot-5, 260-pound Kelce has “Hit the Quan” and done “The Chicken Head” and everything in between. He’s the life of a football party that has moved to the NFL’s biggest stage — and with a worldwide audience watching.
“I just think any time he gets the ball in the end zone, I ask him all the time, ‘How do you come up with these dances, man? Just how do you come up with all this stuff?'” said Chiefs offensive tackle Eric Fisher, who was fined $14,037 for dumping two beers on himself while celebrating a touchdown in Kansas City’s divisional round win over Houston.
“I don’t know, man,” Fisher added. “I think his touchdown celebrations are one of a kind and will go down in history.”
Kelce is also doing a pretty good job of getting himself into the record books with his play.
He holds the NFL record for the most seasons by a tight end with 1,000 or more yards receiving with four, and counting. Kelce is a favorite target of Patrick Mahomes and established himself as possibly the best all-around tight end in the game.
“Kelce’s a beast,” Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill said. “He’s special. I’ve never seen a guy that size to have that much ability or to carry that kind of swagger. He’s definitely a leader.”
The 49ers say the same of the playmaking Kittle, who was selected a first-team All-Pro this season. The third-year tight end has had 85 catches or more and 1,000 yards receiving in each of his past two years.
Kittle is a fun-loving character whose approach to the game mimics that of a playful professional wrestler. After all, his nickname is “Stone Cold Kittle” — after “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.
He even uses a gesture to celebrate first downs that he borrowed from Pentagón Jr., a Mexican wrestler. He makes a circle with his thumb and forefinger to form a “0” and then flicks his wrist so his other fingers form an “M” for Pentagón Jr.’s catch phrase: “Cero miedo,” which means, “zero fear.”
Katie Sowers trailblazer as 1st woman coach at Super Bowl
MIAMI (AP) — Katie Sowers answered questions on topics ranging from whether it hurt getting her ears pierced (no) to if she wants to be an NFL head coach one day (yes).
For the full 60 minutes of the San Francisco 49ers’ portion of media night on Monday, Sowers talked with reporters from around the world on making history as the first woman and first openly gay coach to work the Super Bowl.
“I’m waiting for someone to tell me that this is all a joke, and they’re going to be like ‘Psych! You’re not really there. You’re not really a football coach,'” Sowers said. “It’s one of those things that you really start to look around you and take advantage of every single day, especially with things happening in the news. You really appreciate the moment.”
Being the first woman to coach in the Super Bowl may be surreal. Sowers makes very clear she hopes she’s blazing a path for many more to follow.
“I feel like a broken record, but what I want to continue to say is that even though I’m the first, the most important thing is I’m not the last and we continue to grow it,” Sowers said.
Simply attending a Super Bowl was Sowers’ dream growing up in Hesston, Kansas, and playing football in the yard with her twin sister, Liz.
She might’ve become a basketball coach after wrapping up her college basketball career at Goshen College in Indiana. But being gay kept her from becoming a volunteer assistant there in 2009. Current Goshen President Rebecca Stoltzfus apologized to Sowers for that last week and noted those sexual orientation policies were ended in 2015.
Sowers played in the Women’s Football Alliance and for USA Football’s national team, including her best game ever where she intercepted five passes at safety against Germany. Injuries such as a separated shoulder and a torn labrum ended her playing career, leading her to Kansas City where she earned a master’s degree at Central Missouri.
“I knew that I had a long road ahead of me if I wanted to be an NFL coach because I didn’t have the opportunity to play on a college team,” Sowers said. “I didn’t have the opportunity to break down film like a lot of these (coaches). … I didn’t have the opportunity to network like a lot of people did. But I was up for the challenge, so I bought every book I could and started doing it myself.”
‘Captain America’ John Lynch enjoys success as 49ers GM
MIAMI (AP) — John Lynch had just finished another season in the relatively cushy job as television analyst when he decided to call Kyle Shanahan three years ago and offer up his services as a general manager if Shanahan got hired as head coach in San Francisco.
Shanahan, who was on a Super Bowl run as Atlanta’s offensive coordinator, was seeking a general manager he could work well with and jumped at the opportunity.
“Kyle was real busy, he was coaching a team,” Lynch said. “And you know how Kyle talks. So he said ‘Hey, I’m going to have this dude, his name’s Jed, give you a call. I said, “Yeah, I know Jed.'”
Niners CEO Jed York then invited Lynch for an interview in the Bay Area, starting the process that led to Shanahan and Lynch getting hired to team up to turn around a franchise mired in losing and dysfunction.
That decision to leave his job at Fox and get back working with an NFL team worked about as well as everything else Lynch seems to do in his life.
Lynch, who graduated from Torrey Pines High School in Del Mar, has helped build a roster that has the Niners in the Super Bowl this week against the Kansas City Chiefs, earning him the Pro Football Writers of America award as the league’s top executive in 2019.
Lynch is now looking to have an almost perfect weekend. He’s a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in voting to be conducted Saturday and could follow that up with a Super Bowl championship as an executive to join the title he won as a player in Tampa Bay 17 years ago.
“I’ve dreamt about it and here we are,” Lynch said. “It would be a real nice weekend.”
Lynch and Shanahan have formed the perfect pair in San Francisco. The two had never worked together before but were familiar with each other’s accomplishments. Shanahan studied Lynch’s play when he arrived as an assistant coach in Tampa Bay a year after Lynch had left for Denver.
Lynch then played his final four seasons for Kyle’s father, Mike, and then spent years calling Kyle’s games as an analyst on Fox.
Their team-building philosophies were so similar that when both were given a test by the 49ers on how to allocate 150 “points” as a fake salary cap to build a roster, they came up with nearly identical versions.
“Maybe they hired us for that reason,” Lynch said.
49ers’ Mostert surfed his way on long wave to NFL success
MIAMI (AP) — Raheem Mostert froze as the menacing fin sliced through the ocean surface just 2 feet from his surfboard.
It was a shark.
OK, now what?
The San Francisco 49ers running back was 16 at the time and in trouble in the waters off New Smyrna Beach, Florida – the “Shark Bite Capital of the World.” As the shark’s fin slowly bobbed, Mostert’s mind raced with fear and he whipped his head around to find his surfing buddies.
“I had my legs in the water and I looked at my friends and they were like, ‘Raheem, whatever you do, don’t panic.'” Mostert recalled. “The only thing I could do at the time was pick my feet up and just sit on the board and balance.”
Until, eventually, the curious shark swam away.
Then, Mostert could breathe — and surf — again.
“That’s really the first time I ever experienced an encounter with a shark,” he said with a smile.
And, it wouldn’t be the last.
There would be two or three more anxious moments in the water over the next few years. But, Mostert can proudly say, without any shark bites.
“It doesn’t get old, that’s for sure,” he said. “It’s a little bit of a thrill, but you’ve just got to be smart.”
See, that’s why tackle-hungry defensive linemen and linebackers are no sweat for the now 27-year-old Mostert. He has been dodging danger since he was a kid.
In the water, and sometimes in the neighborhood.
The breakout star of the NFC championship game with 220 yards rushing — the second-most in NFL postseason history — and four touchdowns against Green Bay would head to the ocean when things got too hectic. Even with the sharks stealthily swimming around in there.
“Surfing was very important simply because it helped me get away from, you know, the stuff that was on the inland,” said Mostert, who partnered with Ocean Conservancy this season to support ocean health for the “My Cause My Cleats” campaign.
“Getting away, being in the ocean,” he added, “the tranquility, the peace, yeah, it was just like a getaway for me.”
Chiefs’ Mahomes leads way with his legs, not just his arm
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Patrick Mahomes was just trying to run out of bounds, not make the kind of shake-your-head, what-did-he-just-do play that will be shown on highlight reels for as long as the Kansas City Chiefs are in existence.
It was late in the second quarter of the AFC championship game, and the Chiefs were trailing Tennessee 17-14. Mahomes had already marched them nearly the length of the field, giving Kansas City at worst a chance for a tying field goal, when he scrambled from the pocket and headed toward the sideline with every intention of avoiding any kind of hit.
Then he made a defender miss and saw nobody in front of him, so he turned upfield instead. Mahomes barreled toward the goal line and right over one defender, then spun away from two more, and crashed into the end zone for the go-ahead score.
The momentum of his TD run would spur the Chiefs to two more fourth-quarter touchdowns and a 35-24 victory, and into their first Super Bowl in 50 years. And the play itself showcased why defending Mahomes is so difficult: Even when his pass catchers are covered, the young quarterback can still beat opponents on the ground.
“They have the ultimate respect for him,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said of defenses, “and they’re doubling our guys. You’re not just getting one guy double but two, and the defensive line is trying to sack him. So if he makes one guy miss, it’s over. He has all this running space. We’ve seen that the last couple weeks. For him to be able to see it, decipher it and go — it’s just part of the game for him. You don’t have to tell him anything that he doesn’t already know.”
Except maybe to slide. That has been a work in progress, and Mahomes has been much more savvy about getting down before taking a big hit. But he wasn’t going to do that last Sunday, when a trio of Titans were all that stood between Mahomes and the end zone after a 27-yard highlight-reel scramble.
“As I got to the sideline,” he recalled last week, “I realized I could cut up. I was running down the sideline and I knew we had two timeouts, so I might as well try to cut it back. I cut it back, and luckily I was able to hold on to the ball and get into the end zone.”
It was the kind of improvisational play that could come in handy against the San Francisco 49ers’ stingy defense in the Super Bowl, and the kind of play that Mahomes might not have been able to make for much of this season.
The reigning league MVP sprained his ankle in a season-opening win at Jacksonville, and that caused him to hobble a bit for the next few weeks. Then in Week 7, on a benign quarterback sneak, Mahomes dislocated his kneecap and missed the rest of that game and the next two. And when he returned, he still wasn’t close to 100%.
But the Chiefs’ bye this season didn’t come until Week 12, and that turned out to be fortuitous. Mahomes got a chance to more fully recover, and he came back for the stretch run the healthiest he’d been all season.
It has shown in the playoffs, too. Mahomes has led the Chiefs in rushing in each of their two wins, setting career highs each time. The big run against the Titans was about half of his 53-yard total, and his total was just 16 yards shy of what bruising Titans star Derrick Henry managed against the revamped Kansas City rush defense.
Overhauled Chiefs defense under Spagnuolo rises to occasion
MIAMI (AP) — Perhaps no defensive coordinator in the NFL had more pressure on him than Steve Spagnuolo this season.
That might go for any assistant coach in any sport.
He was hired by the Kansas City Chiefs for one reason: fix a defense that kept them out of the Super Bowl last season. It didn’t matter that such a simple task would require complicated changes, beginning with the move from a system based on three down linemen to one based on four, and that the Chiefs would need to turn over a third of their roster to fit it.
The fact that the Chiefs are playing the 49ers on Sunday is pretty good proof Spagnuolo has succeeded.
After a challenging first eight weeks marked by confusion, inconsistency and missed assignments, the Chiefs wound up fielding one of the best defenses in the NFL down the stretch.
They matched the Ravens for fewest touchdown passes allowed in the final eight weeks, were among the league leaders in interceptions and yards allowed per attempt, and their advanced metrics demonstrated that they were nearly as good as San Francisco’s famously stingy bunch.
“Talented group,” said 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who has spent the past 10 days trying to find their weaknesses before kickoff Sunday. “Their overall team speed, they mix it up in coverages, they don’t really — they’re trying not to give you anything easy. So it makes it difficult, honest.”
Honest? Sounds as if Garoppolo thinks some people need some convincing.
They’re probably the ones that watched the Chiefs last season.
That’s when their defense under then-coordinator Bob Sutton hemorrhaged yards like water through a sieve. It’s when aging veterans beaten down by injuries couldn’t get on the field. It’s when a unit held together by string and tape couldn’t stop Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in overtime of the AFC championship game, losing an opportunity to return to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1970 without giving their own dynamic offense a chance.
Even coach Andy Reid, who is famously loyal to his assistants, knew that changes needed to be made. So he quickly parted with Sutton, his longtime friend, and tracked down Spagnuolo, who had spent a year away from coaching.
Spags, as he’s known to just about everyone, was burned out after his latest turn as the New York Giants’ coordinator had ended with a stint as interim head coach. So rather than jump back onto the sideline, Spagnuolo jumped into his car, driving each Monday to NFL Films headquarters in New Jersey to break down game tapes from the previous weekend.
He watched. He dissected. He learned.
When Reid called him up last winter, and Spagnuolo accepted the monumental task in Kansas City, he had a clear picture of what he wanted to accomplish. Spagnuolo sought to craft a defense that swarmed to the ball, masked his variety of exotic cornerback and safety blitzes, and that shut down opposing passing games in the modern, all-aerial NFL.
Chiefs GM Brett Veach overlooked but not underappreciated
MIAMI (AP) — Brett Veach stands to the side of the Super Bowl’s annual media night melee with a couple of close friends, while the vast majority of people on the stadium floor mill around oblivious to who he is and what he has accomplished.
With his boyish looks, down-to-earth demeanor and willingness to chat with just about anybody no matter their station in life, Veach seems to fit right in with hundreds of volunteers and reporters and fans that choke the stadium floor.
Look closely, though, and there are two tells that Veach is a bit more important: He’s dressed a little more smartly than a volunteer or fan, with a nice button-down shirt, swanky jacket and stylish shoes, and the Kansas City Chiefs credential hanging around his neck happens to give him access to just about anywhere.
After all, he is the Chiefs’ general manager. And the main architect of their best team in five decades.
“I think it’ll be one of the story lines that probably doesn’t receive enough coverage,” Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt told a small group of writers this week, “because the focus is going to be on Andy Reid and the job he’s done over the last seven years. Andy is very deserving, but Brett has been a big part of it.”
He was instrumental in drafting quarterback Patrick Mahomes. He traded for defensive end Frank Clark. He signed safety Tyrann Mathieu in free agency. He dismantled a defense that kept Kansas City out of the Super Bowl last season, and he rebuilt it into one that helped the franchise end a 50-year drought in reaching the big game this season.
The rise of the small-school wide receiver from training camp helper to valuable assistant to invaluable talent evaluator and ultimately general manager of the AFC champions is downright Dickensian. The 41-year-old Veach grew up loving and playing the game, but he wasn’t some NFL legacy whose dad was a coach or general manager. He wasn’t given a job on a coaching staff or in a front office because of whom he knew or the strings someone pulled.
No, Veach worked his way up, beginning with an unpaid job with the Eagles during the late-summer months of 2004. He was a grad assistant at Delaware, where he’d wrapped up his playing career, and knew he wanted into the front-office side of football. And he was willing to do anything, whether it was fetching water or breaking down tape.
He did that for two years while working at Delaware and was poised to climb a much different ladder in intercollegiate athletics. But when Reid called a couple of years later, and offered him a full-time job as a coaching assistant, Veach decided to move to Philadelphia and embark on what has become a wild, rapid rise through the ranks.
A year later, he helped to scout a wide receiver the Eagles would ultimately pick: DeSean Jackson. A couple of years after that, Veach was promoted to college and pro scout. When Reid was fired by the Eagles and hired in Kansas City in 2013, he brought him along first as a personnel analyst and later as co-director of player personnel.
It was in that role that Veach banged the drum for Mahomes, impressing upon Reid and then-GM John Dorsey how the strong-armed QB from Texas Tech was the future of the Chiefs at quarterback. They were convinced, trading up to select him with the 10th overall pick, despite having Alex Smith under center. The move in retrospect was genius: The second-year starter was the league MVP last season and has the Chiefs playing for their second Super Bowl title this season.